I'm working on a doctorate in education, and my research focuses on potential uses of digital communication media (online discussions, blogs, wikis, etc.) in teaching writing. In particular, I am interested in how teachers of English language arts, humanities, or social studies might incorporate digital interactive writing into the writing process, such that online discussions might serve as a sort of pre-writing activity for essays, stories, or other written compositions to help students develop and articulate their ideas.

For example, students might use discussion forums to discuss debatable issues in preparation for persuasive essays on the same topics (which could potentially be published on blogs or wikis). Or they might use a blog post as a seed for an essay, inviting comments from other students to help them develop their ideas. Or they might begin to develop a story idea through an online chat in which they role-play characters in dialogue. Or they might use instant messaging to brainstorm subtopics for a class wiki involving collaborative research.

Has anyone used Web 2.0 media in this way with their students? If so, I'd be very interested to hear some of the details. If not, what do you think about such an approach? Many thanks in advance!

(For more on this topic, I invite you to check out my blog, Authorship 2.0.)

Tags: blogging, discussions, english, instantmessaging, socialstudies, wikis, writing

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Nancy, I am with you and echo your sentiments completely. I love idea of getting parents blogging with students and although we have quite a few adding comments we have a way to go. Also, I feel, as educators we have a fantastic opportunity to teach students, in a safe environment, how to handle all the issues that may arise.
Our filtering systems are very tight at our school (far too tight for my liking) and even then on the most innocent searches, unsavoury sites will appear.
Anne, I think there are some people (parents, teachers, administrators) who try to keep such a tight rein on kids that kids end up being p*** poor decision makers. I know schools have an obligation (and a mandate) to keep kids safe but we also have an obligation to teach them how to think for themselves. I get tired of "the sky is falling, the sky is falling" mentality when it come to technology (and literature for that matter). I think it is a cop out for people who don't want to take the time to do it right. Finished whining, N.
Hi Amy,

Well, the first thing I do is have the parents sign a consent form and the students sign a blogging rules form--we go over this in great detail, and the students know that they are responsible for every action that they take while blogging--their posts and their comments. I do monitor what students are doing, but with 90 kids, you cannot possibly read every word-- you need to skim, scan, and get help from a teaching assistants, parents, student teachers--whoever will help read.

I typically respond to every students' blog once a week or more. That means I take an hour or two at home and read and make comments. Sometimes I will also do that in the lab while students are working. I f students take a piece of writing to publish, than I have them print me a hard copy and I assess it the old-fashioned way...

One of the features of 21classes.com is tracking--I can see how many posts each student has completed and how many comments they've made. For teaching writing and 7th graders, the key really is to give them assignments that are engaging and keep them more occupied with the assignment than the peer review. Sometimes I'll just take 10 minutes and have kids respond to each other's posts--but a lot of the time the kids will do this from home, too. I find that the posts are almost always positive and appropriate. With 21classes.com as the administrator you can also sign in as the student--so in one case, a student made a comment that I thought could be misconstrued, and I was able to remove the comment and notify the student privately of the change that I made.

It is a hard task to keep track--you have to know your students, trust them, and take a leap of faith. I had my principals support--in advance--and we both agreed that if something negative did happen, we would deal with it by taking away privileges. It is well-worth the risk. I had a daily assignment for students to work on--and I anticipated that it would take close to the entire class period--by keeping them busy, you really do avoid most problems... I would not allow students just to post whatever they wanted. My protocol included specific daily assignments--a no socialization rule is in effect!

To make sure they stay on task, I just walk the room--it works for me...
It's not really a management nightmare... If you want your kids to write in an authentic way, this is as close as I've found--so you take some risks that not every kid is always 100% on task--so what if a few kids spend more time commenting than working on the assignment--at least they're reading and responding. I think it's a winner all the way around! I hope you give it a try! Nicole
Do you have a copy of your blogging rules? Thanks
Hi Marielle ,

OK, time for a "blast from the past article" that I was reminded of after reading the theoretical background of what you are studying. During my first year teaching at NYiT (1988...before flush toilets were invented) our english department became involved with a then novel idea conceived in part by Trent Batson (now at MIT) about the influence of Computer Mediated Communication on student writing. Now, this is pre- www by about 3 years, and the ENFI project was a LAN set up with at the time state of the art 286 server and 8088 terminals, but the theoretical questions and hypothesis of the study are very similar to those you are looking at with WEB 2.0 apps. Essentially, Trent, who was at Gallaudett at the time, wondered if the "verbal experience" that deaf students lack could be improved by "Real Time Writing"...sort of an old fashion AIM chat program.

Again, the connection is theoretical, not technical. You will note in the study that more than just verbal experience, using CMC changes the dynamics of writer/audience, student/teacher, etc., all of which can be used to enhance the writing experience. While certainly more robust techologically, WEB 20 apps essentially do the same thing only on a wider scale. Students are now writing for a wider and different audience, using programs like Twitter, they can get immediate feedback, etc.

Here's a link to an article on it.


Thanks, Quig, for sharing this article. You're right about its relevance to this discussion and my research. How interesting that part of the impetus for that study was exploring possibilities for broadening communication opportunities for deaf students. I'm curious about how that line of inquiry has progressed in the intervening years with so many ubiquitous applications now bridging the distance between verbal and written communication.

Another interesting article from the higher ed community is one by Judith Lapadat called "Written Interaction: A Key Component in Online Learning." It offers a compelling theoretical argument for the potential learning benefits of asynchronous online discussions as contrasted with synchronous ones.

I've found that there has been more research of this sort in higher education than in K-12, although the empirical research base is surprisingly slim even there. The good news is that the time is right to change this, thanks in part to the incredible speed and scope of Web 2.0's penetration into society at large.
Hi Marielle,

We have done collaborative writing projects with partner classes in other schools using a project wiki and videoconferencing (not a web 2.0 media).

The teacher teachers came up with three topics each for the students to vote as their project topic. The site that created the topic would write the first chapter and post their finished product on chapter 1 wiki page. The other class would receive notification that the page had been updated and would read the chapter over with their class.

Once read, the classes would connect over IVC to share their chapter, discuss the characters and make suggestions for chapter 2. The other class would then write their chapter to post to the project wiki.

This process would go on for 4 chapters (2 each class) plus a conclusion written by each class to be compared during an IVC connection with the classes performing their conclusions as a readers theater presentation.

We have done this project with a school in Texas and with classes in the United Kingdom. Our wiki with Texas is still online at http://avonmagnolia.wikispaces.com/ but is missing the conclusion due to testing schedules and running out of time :(

We will be running this project again this school year. We are looking for partner classrooms grades 3-6 with access to H.323 (IP) videoconferencing. If anyone has a classroom that would like to collaborate please let me know.

Paul Hieronymus
Thanks for sharing this innovative project, Paul. It's interesting to consider the potential learning value of collaborative writing. Could you share a few more details in order to give us a clearer picture of what took place? How many students were involved? How did the group writing process work within a class? How do you think the experience of collaborative writing using a wiki impacted students' writing process and/or the quality of their writing?
Wow, I think this is a great idea (these are great ideas). Really! My sister is not very computer literate and is just starting her post-secondary education. She wants to write, but she has no idea of all these new media for expressing one's voice.

So, although I haven't done what you describe, I was thinking about just this very same thing the other day.

Remember the building story exercise where each person writes one sentence and passes it on the next person? I thought that would be a great use for a Wiki. Or for a blog--where the first sentence is the post and all the comments are each contributor's sentence (or make them do it backwards!). I thought this would be great for a creative writing class, or an EFL class.

They'd also be good for writing critiques (of fellow-students' stories or even art) since people need to know how to (a) accept constructive criticism, and (b) give constructive criticism. So maybe that would also be good for a group communication class.
Marielle, you might be interested in my wiki resource site, http://digitalwriting.pbwiki.com, that supports a forthcoming book (November, Christopher Gordon), Teaching Writing using Blogs, Wikis, and Other Digital Tools. I also teach a course on Teaching Digital Writing (see syllabus); we're using a Ning as the main course site, but students also create blogs, wikis, and podcasts.
Sound like a wonderful class, is it high school? college? Thamks for providing the resources. N.
Thanks so much for sharing this, Richard. (Sorry for the late response...just catching up from a busy period...) Nice to find another colleague with common interests...

I will take a good look at your syllabus and your wiki. I am teaching a related graduate course in the spring called Authorship and Learning in the Digital Age. I'm still finalizing my syllabus, but I'd be glad to share it when it's ready. How's your course going so far? Any words of wisdom you'd care to share? I looked for your new book at the Christopher Gordon site, but I don't see it listed. Do you know when it will be available?



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